The town of Ierapetra

Crete> Ierapetra

Ierapetra is in southeast Crete, in an extremely strategic position controlling the south coast of Crete and the Libyan Sea. Favored both by position and by nature, Ierapetra has always been an important center of the island. It has grown into the largest town in south Crete and a major tourist destination. When you visit it you will find a lively, active town - much more so than Agios Nikolaos or Sitia. Ierapetra, with around 13,000 inhabitants (2001 census), is a seaside town with an exceptional beach at its busy center.

Ierapetra, sunny weather and the highest temperatures in Greece. What makes Ierapetra stand out is that it has the highest average of sunny days and the highest temperatures in Crete and Greece, with an annual average of 20 C. Ierapetra is a town which has everything in abundance, but the one thing you won’t need here is an umbrella, since it rarely rains. According to the experts, the mountains of West and Central Crete act as barriers, stopping the clouds on their way to Ierapetra.

Ierapetra is one of the most fertile areas in Greece, and therefore one of the most productive. Its inhabitants mainly cultivate greenhouse fruit and vegetables, exporting them to many European countries. The list is a long one, but until recently Ierapetra was not one of the most attractive towns in Crete or Greece. In recent years, however, there have been efforts to prettify it. The restructuring of the coastal road has indeed improved it a great deal, making it ideal for a stroll and somewhere to sit for lunch or an evening drink with a view of the sea. The town of Ierapetra has pretty corners to discover, making you forget that you’re in a busy place with a slight traffic problem and the general hustle and bustle of a town in constant motion.


General information about Ierapetra

One main draw to the town of Ierapetra is the imposing fort built to protect the town from pirates and sea raiders.  The fort, built by the Venetians and known by the locals as the "Kales", has been erected on the top of the southernmost area of the ancient harbour.  There is a local myth saying it was built by the Genoese pirate Pescadores in 1212.  It is one of those monuments of the past which, because of its solid construction and the fact that it was still garrisoned until the final years of the last century, still exists today to serve as a reminder of some of the nation´s most difficult times.  In fact Ierapetra was one of the last towns to hold out against the Roman invaders in Crete.

The church of Afentis Christos, is near the fort, a little to the west in the "Sarakina" area. It has two aisles, the second being dedicated to St Charalambos. Like all Greek churches it is adorned with wonderful paintings and gold artwork, as per any Church in Crete you can enter pay your respects and light a candle.

The church of Afentis Christos is regarded as being the oldest church in the town, being built in the 14th century. Every Easter in Crete you will find the celebrations for the area of Lassithi to be held at this Church and you will see the “burning of Judas” and many other amazing spectacles.

Within the town of Ierapetra you will also find the Museum which holds many artifacts from Minoan times and the history of the town, this is well worth a visit and you will find art collections through the ages, currency and coins as well and pottery from the Minoan period and beyond.  Entry is only a few euros and gives you an opportunity to take back some amazing photographs.


The History of Ierapetra

Ierapetra has had a place in the history of Crete since the Minoan period. The Greek and later Roman town of Hierapytna was on the same site as present day Ierapetra. In the Classical Age Ierapytna became the strongest town of eastern Crete and as a Dorian city in continual rivalry with Praisos, the last Minoan city in the island. Later, in the 3rd century BC, Hierapytna was notorious for its tendency to piracy and took part in the Cretan War along with other Cretan cities in the side of Philip V of Macedon against Knossos and Rhodes.Its importance as independent state ended when it was conquered by the Romans in 67 BC (the last free city in Crete) and was surpassed by the city of Gortyn. The Roman conquest of Ierapetra occurred about the same time as that of Knossos, Cydonia and Lato. Today remains of the Roman harbor can still be seen in the shallow bay. In AD 824 it was destroyed by Arab invaders, only to be rebuilt as a base for pirates again.

Venetian Era

In the Venetian Age, from the 13th to the 17th centuries, Ierapetra - now known by its present name - became prosperous again. The Fortress of Kales, built in the early years of Venetian rule and strengthened by Francesco Morosini in 1626 to protect the harbor, is a remnant of this period, although local myth says it was built by the Genoese pirate Pescatore in 1212. In July 1798 Ierapetra made a small step into world history: Napoleon stayed with a local family after the Battle of the Pyramids in Egypt. The house where he stayed can still be seen. In the Ottoman period a mosque was built in the town. Finds from Ierapetra´s past can be found in the local Museum of Antiquities, formerly a school for Muslim children. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a well preserved statue of Persephone.

Modern Era

Present day Ierapetra consists of two quite distinct parts, Kato Mera and Pano Mera. Kato Mera is the old town on the southwestern headland. It is characterized by a medieval street layout with narrow alleyways, cul-de-sacs and small houses, creating a village-like atmosphere. The former mosque and the "house of Napoleon" can be found in this neighborhood, as can Aghios Georgios metropolitan church (built in 1856) in the town´s center. It is considered one of the most interesting churches of Crete. The ceiling of the church has many "blind" domes. Those, as well as the central dome, are wooden (mainly cedar wood). Pano Mera is the much bigger new town, with wider streets and three and four stored houses. Pano Mera is still expanding towards the west, north and east.

Ierapetra´s main shopping street is Koundouriotou. In the center the town hall, the museum and two cinemas can be found. The local hospital lies in Pano Mera. To the west is the southern headland with the fortress, a port for fishing boats and Navmachia´ area, where sea fights among slaves for citizens´ pleasure were taking place, during Roman period. Further east is a short beach with bars and restaurants, followed by the quay for ferries to Chrissi. Further on lies the main boulevard with hotels, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. At its end a new promenade leads alongside Ierapetra Bay long beach.